Thursday, June 30, 2011

CD Odyssey Disc 291: Soundtrack

This review comes after a minor delay for two reasons.

The first is, I've been getting my musical fix in other ways, including going to concerts by Lucinda Williams (Monday) and seeing Steve Earle for the third time (Wednesday).

It was great to see Lucinda after so many years, and at age 58 the woman can still belt out a tune. She's a bit awkward on stage, but it adds to her charm. She did music from a lot of different points in her career, and changed the arrangement in some to freshen them up. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't, but it was a fine concert.

Steve Earle was awesome - the best I've seen him, and head and shoulders after his 2008 concert in the same venue. He did songs off every one but two of his records, and spanned the career. Also, the Dukes were backing him, and the sound was amazing. One of the better concerts I've been to.

The other reason I delayed, was this next review is that this album is best for driving, and I had nowhere to drive as yet. I finally broke down and listened to it while painting (yes - one day I will have a new figure to show off - really, I mean it).

Disc 291 is...The Matrix Soundtrack

Artist: Various Artists

Year of Release: 1999

What’s Up With The Cover?: As is typical with a soundtrack, it is a promotional shot from the movie. Everyone is dressed in very cool leather and vinyl, and Carrie Ann Moss is giving a raft of geeky boys plenty to think about. Keanu is, of course, wearing his expression.

How I Came To Know It: The usual tale - saw the movie, and liked the music, so I bought it. I have a feeling this soundtrack was bought by a lot of folks, as most people I know seem to own it.
How It Stacks Up: We have about 23 soundtracks (not including scores, which I don't review). Of those 23, "The Matrix" is definitely up there. I would say it is probably 3rd best of all, which is pretty damned good.

Rating: 4 stars

The movie, "The Matrix" was a huge hit in 1999, and whenever it comes on TV (which is often) I'll stop and give it a few minutes of my time. It is an excellent action movie because it combines well choreographed fight sequences, special effects that survive the test of time, memorable characters, and a fast paced story which isn't just about fighting monsters, but gets a little into the human condition (but not too much - it is not a drama).

By contrast, the Matrix 2 and 3 were abominations, where the film makers turn a tight little action story with a twist on the nature of reality, into a bloated essay on our relationship with machinery. In the first movie, the answer to the question, "What is the Matrix?" is "a virtual reality prison designed to turn human energy into battery power for machines." Cool.

In the second and third movies, the answer to the question "What is the Matrix?" is "A movie written by stupid people trying to write dialogue smarter than they are."

Back to the soundtrack, since this isn't a movie review column. The music is excellent, and is entirely composed of either metal tracks or closely aligned industrial electronica from the 1990s (which was the golden age of electronica, in my opinion).

This decision to stick with a consistent sound and style not only fits in well with the movie's stark concrete and leather backdrop, but also lets the listener get a real ear for the sound. The songs are distinct from one another, but also complementary. So often in soundtracks it seems like the movie maker is simply putting on a bunch of songs that they like, and the result when taken out of the context of the movie is that it appears disjointed. "The Matrix" avoids this trap.

Moreover, the songs chosen are excellent. As long time readers will know, I am no fan of electronica, but the tracks on this album are right in my sweet spot. Many songs off this soundtrack have become iconic in their own right, including Propellerheads "Spybreak (Short One)", an instrumental which instantly puts you in the groove when you hear it.

The metal tracks are that industrial metal sound that I have very little exposure to outside of this album, and that's a pity. In fact, many of the songs are from artists I've had very little interest in getting over the years, but the tracks chosen show them in their best light. For example, I've never been keen on White Zombie (I thought they were overly busy in the day) but Rob Zombie's "Dragula" had everyone singing along in their cars through the summer of 1999.

Finally, who can forget Rammstein's "Du Hast"? One of the most kick ass metal songs ever written - the more so because we all tried to sing along to it as well, even though it was written in German. I have no idea what it is about. "du hast" means "you have" in German, but just what I am supposed to have is a complete mystery. Funny that I should review a German song I can't understand immediately after reviewing the Scorpions, a German band who sang in English that they could barely understand. The Odyssey makes some funny connections.

Or am I making those connections in my mind? Or is that just the Matrix messing with my head, making me think I'm free to consider such things? In fact - did I just see my cat walk by exactly the same way twice? For all I know, I may just be some AI's battery pack.

If that's true, maybe I'll wake up soon in some cold sewer - flushed as defective (we live in hope). In the meantime, I can say with reasonable certainty that steak is juicy, that I want to be a rock star in my next life, and this is a good record.

Best tracks - with artist: Rock Is Dead - Marilyn Manson, Spybreak - Propellerheads, Bad Blood - Ministry, Dragula - Rob Zombie, My Own Summer (Shove It) - The Deftones, Du Hast - Rammstein, and Wake Up - Rage Against the Machine

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